Oakmont club pro Grant Sturgeon holding his own at PGA


2009 PGA ChampionshipCHASKA, Minn. ' Grant Sturgeon knows what its like to play difficult golf courses. For the last 16 months, he has been an assistant pro at Oakmont Country Club, reputed to be the toughest course in America.
Playing with two PGA Tour players? Thats different.
Grant Sturgeon PGA Championship
Grant Sturgeon hits his tee shot on the tenth hole during the second round of the 91st PGA Championship. (Getty Images)

In front of thousands of fans? Way out of his element.
Sturgeon stood over a 3-foot par putt on his first hole of the PGA Championship and could hardly feel the putter. He missed badly, took a bogey and wondered how he was going to get through the next two days.
Then came 17 consecutive pars and a respectable 73. And on Friday, the 31-year-old from Kentucky was among the few players who handled the blustery conditions at Hazeltine. He made his first birdie of the championship on his 20th hole, then added three more birdies on his way to a 71 to get into the thick of things on the weekend.
He was at even-par 144.
Expectations coming here you never know, Sturgeon said. I had never played a golf course setup thats this tough, thats this challenging, and never played in front of this many people. Never played against the best in the world. That being said, I felt if I played up to my potential, making the cut was a reasonable goal.
Sturgeon is among 20 club pros who earned a spot into the final major of the year through the PGA Professional National Championship. There used to be 40 teachers among the touring pros, a number that keeps dwindling amid criticism in some corners that the teaching pros are watering down the strongest field of the year.
Weeks like this are a reminder that club pros can be more than merely ceremonial players. As the wind picked up, the greens dried outs and par became a chore, Sturgeon wound up in a tie for 13th.
The best finish by a club pro was a tie for third in 1971 by Tommy Bolt, and if the name sounds familiar, it should. The 1958 U.S. Open champion, later inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, left the tour to become a teacher. He was 54 that year.
No club pro has finished in the top 20 in nearly two decades.
Sturgeon didnt look beyond the first hole when he teed off Thursday, and hes not about to consider the possibilities now.
He is a recent disciple of Bob Ford, the head professional at Oakmont and Seminole Golf Club in south Florida. Ford played 10 times in the PGA Championship, although he didnt have too much advice for his assistant.
I called him for some last-minute wisdom before I teed off yesterday, Sturgeon said. He said, Swing hard and hope you hit it. So that was about as deep as we got into strategy, other than just enjoying the moment and have fun.
Ford played 10 times in the PGA Championship. He returned from an afternoon of lessons to find the clubhouse buzzing with news that Sturgeon not only made the cut, but had moved inside the top 20 late in the afternoon.
To make the cut in your first one is really exceptional, because youre so out of your element, said Ford, who twice made the cut in the PGA. I just got off the phone with him. I told him, You just did the hardest thing in the world. Now go have some fun and make some money. He can make as much money this week as the last two years working for me.
Sturgeon has a singular putting style ' a belly reverse claw. He uses a putter in which the handle sticks into his belly, places his right hand on the putter in a conventional style, then grips the top of the handle with his fingertips.
Im pretty sure its an original, he said.
Not so unusual is his career path. Sturgeon had high hopes of playing golf for a living when he finished at Louisville. He won the Kentucky Open. In his first start as a pro, he won the Irvin Cobb, a big tournament in Kentucky previously won by Kenny Perry and Russ Cochran. He finished third in a Hooters Tour event.
I thought, This is fun, and Im well on my way, Sturgeon said.
Then came a back injury at Q-school that fall. He went home to recover and never returned to tour golf. Sturgeon took a job at Louisville Country Club, then was hired last April at Oakmont.
Will a strong weekend change his future?
Im not sure about that, Sturgeon said. I absolutely love what I do. Teaching is something Im passionate about. I can never say never. But this is absolutely just an amazing week, and Im enjoying every second of it.
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